Two Belkin add-ons for iOS cameras, but only one is hot

Apple’s iPhone (s aapl) is no doubt a heavy contributor to the death of point-and-shoots at the hands of smartphones, but it still lacks some niceties of dedicated cameras. New accessories from Belkin, collected under the LiveAction brand, aim to narrow the gap even further. I looked at the Belkin LiveAction Camera Grip and Remote to see how much value they add to the iPhone’s already considerable mobile picture-taking chops.

Belkin LiveAction Camera Grip ($49.99)

The Camera Grip is a simple slide-on accessory that basically makes the iPhone a little more usable as a traditional camera by adding a more grippy, larger hand-hold for iPhone 4/4S and iPod touch owners, as well as dedicated photo and video shutter buttons. There’s also a standard 1/4-inch tripod adapter in the bottom of the grip, and a dock connector that allow the hardware shutter buttons to communicate to Belkin’s LiveAction camera app.
Cleverly designed with a spring-loaded bracket to hold iPhones snugly, even when they’re in a protective case or skin, the Camera Grip definitely succeeds at its goal of making it easier to hold your iOS device like a camera and snap photos. But it comes with some limitations that might seriously disappoint mobile photographers. The shutter buttons only work in the LiveAction app, for instance, which means you won’t be able to use Apple’s own camera app, Camera+ or the photo taking part of Instagram.
Also, while it’s nice that the Camera Grip doesn’t require any batteries and is relatively small, it adds a significant amount of bulk to the iPhone or iPod touch, and also isn’t so small as to be able to be stowed comfortably in a pocket. In short, it adds a lot of the downsides of a point-and-shoot while offering few advantages, especially now that iOS 5 supports using the volume up button as a hardware shutter. The tripod mount is nice, but other accessories, like the Glif, do the job cheaper and with a smaller footprint.

Belkin LiveAction Camera Remote ($49.99)

The Remote, on the other hand, offers a pretty unique set of features for iPhone photographers, and in a package that’s remarkably well-designed for mobile-minded users. It features a Bluetooth-powered remote shutter control unit, with a clever support stand that fits neatly into the remote unit for easy storage. The two-part design manages to still be small enough that it doesn’t feel cumbersome in the front pocket of a pair of jeans.
Again, the Remote works only with the Belkin LiveAction app, but in this case that’s not as much of an issue, since you’ll be using the remote in cases where you’re taking a self-portrait, night shot or some other situation where speed isn’t key, but properly setting up the shot is.
Since the Remote uses Bluetooth, it also doesn’t necessarily require line-of-sight, as do many IR-based DSLR camera remotes. That makes it very handy, since you can keep the remote itself out of shots when taking pictures you also happen to be in.
Remote capabilities definitely expand the scope of the iPhone’s potential as a camera significantly; combined with things like the Olloclip, for instance, you can take pretty excellent macro photos without worrying about shutter shake. Also, there’s a dedicated video shutter button, so switching from a distance between still and moving picture recording is a breeze.
One last thing I liked about the Belkin LiveAction Remote: it works as a play/pause remote for music playback on your iPhone or iPod touch when the LiveAction camera app isn’t active. Comes in handy when you’ve got your iPhone docked in your home stereo.

Both getting and missing the point

The LiveAction accessories are then a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Camera Grip seems to miss much of what makes mobile photography fun; it adds bulk, reduces portability and offers little additional functionality in return. The Camera Remote, on the other hand, is exactly what iPhone photographers are looking for: a product that addresses a functionality gap without affecting the iPhone’s general mobility or necessitating a camera bag. Your needs may vary, but for my money, the LiveAction remote paired with a Glif, GorillaMobile¬†and Olloclip is hard to beat in terms of a mobile photography kit that covers all the bases.